The Common Good
November-December 2002

Worth Noting

by Ryan Beiler | November-December 2002

When this book was published, the Committee to Protect Journalists had
just named the West Bank as "the worst place to be a journalist." Two
photojournalists have been killed by the ...

When this book was published, the Committee to Protect Journalists had just named the West Bank as "the worst place to be a journalist." Two photojournalists have been killed by the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) this year, and many others have been injured.

The antagonism between the press and the IDF was obvious during my trip in June to the West Bank town of Bethlehem, on an abortive outing with a Swedish Reuters photographer featured in the book (he lives in the West Bank and is married to a Palestinian). Helmeted and flak-jacketed, we spent most of the time scurrying through Palestinian backyards to avoid patrols, paradoxically looking for "action" while avoiding the attention of those perpetrating it.

One journalist in the book writes about the Syrian head of state that he believes ordered his assassination. Another writes of a suicide bombing at his child's school. With examples like these, I generally regard the notion of an unbiased press as a myth. None of us can shed our contexts and perspectives and conjure the "unbiased insight" that this book's dust jacket touts. Like preachers, reporters are often at their best when they tell stories instead of "truth."

And images, moreover, are inch-for-printed-inch the best storytellers available. In a conflict often framed as an intractable eye-for-an-eye cycle of violence, these pictures tell a larger story. Well-dressed middle-class Israelis bury suicide bomb victims on land confiscated from Palestinians—who in turn mourn their so-called "martyrs" amid the rubble and poverty of occupation. Palestinians blow up buses with backpacks; Israelis blow up whole buildings with F-16s. It is an arm for an eye and a leg for a tooth. There may be reciprocal grief and violence, but these images—perhaps epitomized by Ammar Awad's photo of a boy throwing a rock at a tank—confront us with the total asymmetry of the conflict. And bear in mind that in this particular image, obvious from its perspective, the photographer is in the line of fire too. So these stories gain power from the same reason I doubt their total objectivity—these tellers are caught up in the very story they are telling.

Ryan Beiler, Web editor at Sojourners

, created a multimedia account of his experiences in Bethlehem at www.sojo.net.
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